The orca L95 died from a fungal infection which originally come from the wound caused by the tag according to NOAA
The orca, dubbed “L95” was found dead in March in Canadian waters, with traces of a device housed in its dorsal fin. The researchers put the tag on 24 February off the coast of Washington State, but satellite transmissions were arrested three days later following a “premature detachment”, according to statements from NOAA at the time.
The agency suspended its killer whale tagging operations pending final necropsy and a report by a group of experts, which have been made public.”L95 died of a fungal infection which originally come from the wound caused by the tag” said Richard Merrick, scientific director of NOAA. “NOAA and biologists working on these whales are deeply dismayed that one of their tags may have had a connection with the death of the orca,” Merrick announced arguing that the panel nevertheless “concluded that some extenuating circumstances may have predisposed this whale to a serious fungal infection.”
First, the “incomplete sterilization” of the tag after she fell into the water in an unsuccessful attempt to marking may have played a role, he said. The biologist who fired the device used alcohol to sterilize the tag, but also failed to use of bleach, as required by the Protocol to NOAA. Broken forks that have remained in the flesh of the whale may also have played a role. “The location of the tag was near major blood vessels, which may have contributed to infection.”
A permanent ban on invasive tagging orcas is a possible outcome
NOAA will continue to suspend the markup efforts pending the return of this practice within the agency and by an independent scientific committee. The International Whaling Commission will also hold a markup workshop next spring. Merrick said that “a permanent ban invasive tagging orcas is a possible outcome.”
Amy Sloan, deputy head of the department of permits and conservation of NOAA, said that various mitigation measures that can be improved will be considered, such as sterilization in the field, appropriate markup places, the condition of animals before labeling, detachment of the tag, and work with manufacturers to improve the detachment of the tag.”